Dalton Daily Citizen
In the annals of distracted driving history, texting while motoring down the road isn’t even the latest chapter.
Ever-advancing technology already lets drivers surf the Internet from their car dashboard. Before that, drivers have diverted — and are still diverting — their attention from the road while turning the radio dial, putting on makeup during the morning commute, chowing on a rushed lunch or reaching for a dropped pen.
You get the point.
Now, the Georgia Legislature is considering outlawing texting while driving.
Call it TWD.
Two bills (HB 944 and HB 938) aim to curb it. However, questions linger about how the ban would work. How can law enforcement know if a driver is texting or using a cell phone for something else, such as making a call? Will reading a text message be disallowed? How about checking a sports score on the Web?
Roger Williams is one of the people who will decide. He’s a Republican state representative from Dalton. Williams supports a texting while driving ban. Asked about the bigger issue of distracted driving and how to legislate it, Williams said, “Of course, there are a lot of distractions in a vehicle. People eat hamburgers, they read books and all that, but texting takes so much attention away from the road.”
As far as enforcing the proposed ban, he believes legislation may be tweaked to apply to wrecks that are caused by a driver who was texting.
“I don’t think the state patrol or law enforcement is going to be pulling people over and looking to see if they’ve got their cell phone out,” Williams said.
While driving into work at the state Capitol, he said he often sees people oblivious to their surroundings while typing away on their cellular devices.
“I shy away from them,” said Williams, who has spent about 20 years off and on as a representative. “Especially at traffic signals. They’ll be texting on that thing and traffic gets backed up. Or they’ll swerve out of their lane and almost run into you. You’ve got to be very careful.”
The problem of texting while driving is worsening as adults become more technologically-savvy and as teenagers ignore the possible pitfalls, said Dave Colmans, director of the Atlanta-based Georgia Insurance Information Service (www.giis.org). The organization supports legislation to discourage texting while driving.
“What we’re trying to get people to realize (is that) when you do have to look away from the road to see what you’re texting and to read what has been sent to you, it’s just a formula for disaster,” Colmans said.
Banning texting while driving has gained traction in state legislative chambers throughout the nation. So far, 28 states have a complete or partial ban on texting while driving. Drivers in Tennessee busted for the offense can be fined $50 plus $10 in court costs. Alabama, Florida, Kentucky and South Carolina are the other Southern states with no ban on typing text messages while behind the wheel. Georgia has no limits on cell phone use while driving, except for prohibiting bus drivers from using them.
The U.S. Department of Transportation made headlines last week with an announcement that truck and bus drivers caught while driving commercial vehicles and texting could face fines up to $2,750. Last year, President Barack Obama signed an executive order directing federal employees not to text message while driving government-owned vehicles or operating government-owned equipment.
The federal government has tried to tackle what is viewed as a growing problem of distracted driving. The Web site www.distraction.gov lists several statistics about the dangers of not paying attention while driving.
• Research by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration found drivers who text take their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds out of every six seconds. At 55 miles per hour, the driver is traveling the length of a football field, including the end zones, without looking at the road. That’s 120 yards.
• Drivers who text while driving are more than 20 times more likely to get in a wreck than non-distracted drivers.
• In 2008, nearly 6,000 people died in crashes that involved distracted driving.
It’s also become a hot button issue in the media. Earlier this month, a 19-year-old Lilburn resident was hospitalized after crashing his car into a telephone pole. He was text messaging a friend moments before the wreck. An Alabama woman was killed Thursday after a driver ran a red light at an intersection. State troopers believe texting while driving played a role in the accident.
But do cell phone bans really work?
A study released Friday by the Highway Loss Data Institute, an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, found no decrease in crashes after hand-held phone bans were enacted in three states and Washington, D.C. Comparing insurance claims for crash damage there before and after the bans, researchers found steady claim rates compared with nearby areas lacking bans.
“Whatever the reason, the key finding is that crashes aren’t going down where hand-held phone use has been banned,” said Adrian Lund, president of both organizations. “This finding doesn’t auger well for any safety payoff from all the new laws that ban phone use and texting while driving.”
Colmans and the not-for-profit industry association he represents push for educating drivers about distracted driving. But he realizes that laws don’t stop people from breaking them.
“How many laws do we have against drunk driving?” Colmans said. “How many laws do we have against following too closely? The fact that you have a law certainly does help from an enforcement standpoint because it’s something you can add on to the impact of being involved in an accident or getting stopped. It’s not going to stop because there is a law, but it will help from the standpoint of, ‘If I get caught doing this and I’m in an accident, I’m in more trouble than I would have been before.’”